The Seattle Times Web Edition: 50 Years from Trinity

Study Guide: Questions to ponder in the nuclear age
   AS A COMPANION to "Fifty Years From Trinity," the following study guide poses questions and dilemmas of the post-nuclear world. Educators and parents may want to use the following questions and scenarios as a way of discussing the decision to bomb Japan and the use of nuclear power as an energy source.

   Fifty years ago, the immense Manhattan Project launched by the U.S. government led to the detonation of the first atomic bombs. Two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were destroyed by the revolutionary weapons, and World War II came to a close.
   The bomb marked the beginning of an atomic age that included the Cold War arms race, radioactive pollution of the air and soil, the development of nuclear power, and advances in nuclear medicine and scientific use of isotopes.
   Below are some suggested questions and activities for class discussion.

Suggestion: Some students could research a topic using only the Internet and other on-line resources, while others pursue the same topic using traditional off-line research. Then compare the results, and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches.

Internet Exercises

  1. The original Trinity stories as reproduced in this Web site are full of so-called "hot" words -- colored type that, when you click on it, provide "hyperlinks," taking you to files or Web pages with more information.

    1. Use a search engine on your Web browser to find your own hyperlinks on the Internet for these words in the story about radiation experiments on humans (it's in the "Deeper into things" section of this site):
      • Hazel O'Leary
      • Nuremberg
      • Battelle
      • radiation experiments
      • biomedical ethics

    2. Most newspaper stories are selective about the information they present, because of space limitations. Take a recent edition of the Seattle Times or other newspaper and read through one of the stories on the front page, circling several words that you think might work as "hot" words -- and then see if you can find hyperlinks that tell you more information about those words.

  2. The handling of nuclear weapons, nuclear energy and nuclear waste all involve complicated issues of public policy. Information and opinions from various viewpoints can be found in many places on the Net (a good starting point is the "Public Policy" portion of the Internet Links section of this site). Review material on both sides of one or more of these issues, then use your Internet skills to find the name of your U.S. Representative and Senators and their e-mail or regular mail addresses, so you can tell them what YOU think.

  3. What are students in Japan talking about in this 50th anniversary year of the atomic bomb? Do they think the U.S. should apologize for dropping the weapons -- or that Japan should apologize for attacking Pearl Harbor? See if you can find Japanese students on the Net, and start a discussion with them about these or other topics.


  1. Was the U.S. correct in launching a massive project at the start of World War II to develop the atomic bomb?
  2. Imagine you are President Truman and his advisers. What are the arguments to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? What are the arguments against?
  3. The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum planned to display the bomber that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, the "Enola Gay," with pictures and words graphically describing the devastation the bomb caused. After protest by American veteran groups, the museum director resigned and the airplane is being exhibited without comment. What do you think should have been included in a museum display about the atomic bomb and the end of World War II? Should taxpayer-supported museums show controversial exhibits? How should countries such as Germany, Japan and America remember World War II's history?
  4. Early proposals to leave nuclear weapons in the control of an international agency such as the United Nations were rejected. Would this have been a good idea?
  5. Over the past 50 years, was the development of nuclear weapons a good thing or bad thing? What are the benefits and costs?
  6. The U.S. and Russia are cutting their nuclear stockpiles and have suspended underground nuclear testing. Should they move to total nuclear disarmament? Why or why not?
  7. Imagine you are President Bush during the Gulf War and Saddam Hussein has launched a massive attack of poison gas and germ warfare weapons against American troops. Would you respond with nuclear weapons?
  8. In the 1950s and 1960s, prison inmates consented to be exposed to radiation and the information was used to help set worker safety standards. Were these experiments on humans right or wrong?
  9. The Pacific Northwest has only one working nuclear power plant but there are 109 such plants in the United States, producing more than a fifth of the nation's electricity. Should nuclear power be encouraged or stopped? What are its advantages and disadvantages?
  10. A proposal has been made to ship nuclear waste from other countries through the Port of Tacoma and store it in the U.S. to prevent it from being used to build bombs. Is this a good or bad idea?
  11. What are the advantages and disadvantages to these ideas for handling nuclear waste?

    A. Leave it where it is, at existing power plants and defense facilities, until something useful can be done with it.

    B. Reprocess used nuclear fuel, which reduces the volume of waste and makes new fuel but also makes plutonium as a byproduct.

    C. Bury it underground where it must remain undisturbed for as long as human civilization to date, or 10,000 years.

    D. Launch it by rocket into the sun or space.

    E. Drop it in the deep ocean.

  12. Cleaning the desert around Hanford of radioactive and chemical pollution may cost more than $100 billion. Some say we are obligated to clean the soil and buildings as thoroughly as possible. Others say the pollution is doing no harm and can be left alone. What do you think?
  13. Besides nuclear power plants, what are some examples of peaceful uses of nuclear energy? (Radiation therapy, X-rays, archeological dating, use of radioactive tracers in biomedical engineering, powering spacecraft, etc.)
  14. Should scientists make public everything they discover, even if it can be potentially used for harmful purposes? Should they refuse to work in some fields of research?
  15. Some astronomers have speculated that perhaps aliens from other stars have not visited us because technological civilizations capable of space travel end up destroying themselves. What are some examples of how technology has been used for harm? What are examples of how we have successfully controlled and benefited from technology? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the long-range future of our species?

Suggested Classroom Activities

Books and movies for discussion

Nonfiction: "The Fate of the Earth," "Hiroshima," "Nuclear Renewal" (short book on nuclear power issue).

Fiction: "Fail-Safe," "On the Beach" (set partly in Puget Sound), "Warday," "Alas Babylon," "Lord of the Flies," "The Mouse that Roared" (comic satire), "The Sum of All Fears" (Tom Clancy novel on terrorist atomic bombing of Denver).

Videos: "The Day After" (was a TV movie), "On the Beach," "Dr. Strangelove," "The Bedford Incident," "Crimson Tide", "The China Syndrome," "Atomic Cafe" (satirical documentary), documentaries on the arms race or the Cuban missile crisis.

Trivia contest: Find books, movies or TV shows in which nuclear weapons or nuclear war play some part in the plot. How has the bomb influenced our culture?

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